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Pakistan:Malala’s Victory

By Saroop Ijaz
October 14 2013




Malala Yousufzai did not win the Nobel Prize. In Medieval Europe, women suspected of witchcraft were tried by a process called, ‘Trial by Ordeal’. It entailed, the suspect woman being thrown into the river, if she managed to swim her way to survival, she was undoubtedly a witch and hence promptly killed. In the alternative, if she drowned to death, she was innocent. Heaven forbid, had Malala not survived the callous attempt on her life, hopefully nobody would have called it a drama. However, her tenacity and destiny ensured that she survived and indeed thrives, she has swum ashore. It is too chilling to take the ‘Trial by Ordeal’ analogy any further. The TTP has promised to attack her again and it already makes one nauseous to think what the apologists might say to this. What we did to the great Dr Abdus Salam, our only Nobel laureate and his vandalised grave also makes for painful recollection. It would have been awesome, had she won the prize. However, she does not need it, Malala; her courage and her eloquence have already won. The question is: who has lost?

British historian Tony Judt once wrote, “By the age of 58, a country — like a man — should have achieved a certain maturity. After nearly six decades of existence we know, for good and for bad, who we are, what we have done and how we appear to others, warts and all. We acknowledge, however reluctantly and privately, our mistakes and our shortcomings. And though we still harbour the occasional illusion about ourselves and our prospects, we are wise enough to recognise that these are indeed for the most part just that: illusions. In short, we are adults.” His words written about Israel are as relevant to Pakistan, and of course, to the exceptionalism of the United States.

We refuse to grow up. It takes a mature teenage girl to once again make us aware of our own adolescent ignorance. Pakistan, the citadel of Islam, had divine force behind it, a unique country, unprecedented in the history of humankind, destined to last till Armageddon and then beyond. And because of our uniqueness, the world was out to get us. The textbooks still teach that the Hindus are ‘banyas’, stingy and conspiratorial having a secret alliance with the ‘Christian’ British. The whole Western world feels threatened by our uniqueness, our promise. All of them came together to break away East Pakistan. The Soviets, perhaps running out of Vodka, wanted to reach ‘warm waters’ in 1979, our brethren the Mujahiddins (Taliban) fought back against ‘Imperialism’ and were ‘strategic assets’ and provided ‘strategic depth’. PTV and the ISPR worked on overdrive.

We are not the first or only country to have ‘founding myths’ (although some are more dangerous than others) and marketing spins. However, we violated the first rule; we got high on the supply; perhaps drank all the warm water. Our State bought what it was supposed to sell; its own propaganda. Growing up is disillusioning and painful. Suddenly, tooth fairies do not exist and clothes don’t fit.

The class of ’79 graduated, and now runs the University, grooming the new corps on the only curriculum that they know. However, there is no Soviet Union and there is a TTP. The manual is obsolete. Our best chance of lasting till Armageddon on the present trajectory is only if we cause it to come prematurely. We began by stereotyping the ‘Kafir’, the ‘infidel’, yet once we were done with them, the urge to go on remained. So, we started at home. The ‘gallant yet volatile (and prone to violence) Pashtun’, the ‘subjugated or the feudal Sindhi’, the ‘oppressed by Sardars and slightly suspect Baloch’, the ‘Kafir Ahmadi’, the ‘heretic Shia’, and the list is a work in progress. Hence, the TTP are ‘annoyed Pashtuns’, the ‘unrest’ in Balochistan can be explained completely by ‘foreign hand and treasonous Sardars’. It all makes sense now, the world is conspiring against us as always and Malala is an imperial project, native informant created to defame us; except, it does not.

The line between xenophobia and patriotism is as blurred as the distinction between nationalism and pan-Islamism; in essence, completely porous. We are isolated, hence we hate the world, and because we hate the world, we become more isolated. George Orwell’s analogy that a man may take to drinking because he believes himself to be a failure and then fail all the more because he is a drunkard holds value.

Women were never part of the State narrative. Now at the risk of ‘stereotyping’ (why stop now), it is only the Sunni, Punjabi, Male that is part of the mainstream narrative. Independent, articulate women strike at the core of this narrative. The established practice ofPTV has now permeated all entertainment channels, where the woman is either pious and mute or sly and manipulative. Shaheed Benazir was more intelligent, brave and head and shoulders above any of her contemporaries; the State never forgave her. Asma Jahangir refuses to be cowered down. Malala Yousufzai speaks with moral clarity and passion; attributes that most refuse to acknowledge because they fail to summon them in themselves. Malala like Shaheed BB is a true world leader. Malala symbolises the millions of women displaying courage and fortitude every day in Pakistan, unrecognised by the State and even more disturbingly, by the society.

The venom and ignorance spewed against a child is sickening. However, it is not ahistoric. Pamphlets have turned into conspiracy theory and xenophobic Facebook pages; the local mosque’s loudspeaker now has dozens of channels to broadcast from. The message remains the same, just more widely disseminated, louder, anonymity and cyberspace allow for distance and pseudo bravado, hence more abusive, and progressively more ignorant.

To reason with this ignorance might seem like hammering on an open door. They have never reasoned themselves into their position. They rightly deserve contempt and outrage, yet that alone is not sufficient. The hateful ignorance is a continuation of an ongoing narrative, outrage alone won’t undo it. The counter narrative has to be built. Malala has provided a platform. Education in general and women’s education, in particular, is her cause, it should be ours, too. Whatever little momentum has been built cannot be squandered. Malala’s victory was never going to be complete in Oslo, it will be back home, in government primary and secondary schools, and it will take sustained and committed effort. If Malala does not conclusively win in the long run, all of us lose.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan

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